Labor moves its scare campaign onto vaccination register

Labor leader Bill Shorten has been campaigning heavily on health issues. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Labor is broadening its “privatisation” scare campaign, claiming a tender for the new Australian School Vaccination Register could mean that for the first time the vaccination details of school-children might be in “for-profit” hands.

Health spokeswoman Catherine King has called on Malcolm Turnbull to guarantee the government will not privatise these confidential records.

King said in a statement that nobody believed Turnbull when he said he wouldn’t privatise Medicare. “He is already selling off important health functions. This is just the beginning of his privatisation agenda.”

He had awarded a contract for Australia’s cancer screening records to a for-profit company, she said.

King said the register should only be run by government or a not-for-profit organisation.

The National Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Vaccination Program Register collects details about HPV vaccinations given to all 12- and 13-year-olds through schools, via the National HPV Vaccination Program. From next year it will be expanded to become the Australian School Vaccination Register, covering all adolescent vaccinations given through school programs.

The National HPV register is presently operated by a not-for-profit health promotion charity, the Victorian Cytology Service. The other register, the Childhood Immunisation Register, is run by the Commonwealth.

King said that last year Labor supported changes to create the first comprehensive register but they “did not include any plan to privatise the running of the register”.

Meanwhile the Australian Medical Association’s new president, Michael Gannon, has rejected Labor’s claim that the government’s now-abandoned consideration of outsourcing the Medicare payments system amounted to the privatisation of Medicare.

“If it did, it would face the opposition of the AMA,” Gannon said. He said the elements of Medicare that the vast majority of Australians held dear, such as free treatment in public hospitals and bulk billing for the neediest, “must stay”.

Gannon said the AMA had already come out in support of Labor’s promise to undo the freeze on patient rebates to see GPs and other specialists. But fixing a backroom system that was clunky, 30-year- old, and did not work “is not in any way an attempt to privatise Medicare”.

Labor believes the Medicare “privatisation” scare campaign is a potent weapon for it. But as the ALP has come under attack for its claim being without substance, it is moving to define “privatisation” broadly.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said on Wednesday: “Privatisation occurs when you increase the proportion of health payments made by individuals as opposed to the government.

"Put another way, Labor is against the increasing cost of health care being put on family budgets. We are against making families pay more for Medicare.”

He said if the government was re-elected “you will pay more for your health care. You will pay more to see a GP. You will pay more to see a specialist. You will pay more for medicine. You will pay more for your tests”.

Turnbull said Labor was engaging in a “desperate lie”. “Let me be clear, Medicare will never ever be privatised, it will never ever be sold. The services of Medicare, the payment services will not be outsourced.”

Although the government had been examining outsourcing the payments system before Turnbull’s quick retreat last week to try to counter the Labor scare, he said on Wednesday: “I am not an unalloyed fan of outsourcing. I think there is a risk that if you outsource too much of government services, you run the risk that you end up with very little talent or capability within government.”

He said he had no doubt the Medicare payments system could be brought into the 21st century within government.